Australian Olympian Neil Hawgood has taken over as the head coach of the Indian women’s hockey team. According to Hockey India (HI) Secretary-General Narinder Batra, even though Hawgood, who played for Australia as a left-winger from 1985 to 1991, would coach the senior team, he would also oversee the progress of the junior players.

The primary target of Hawgood, a member of the Australian side that finished fourth in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and bagged the bronze in the 1990 World Cup in Lahore, would be to help the Indian team qualify for the 2014 women’s World Cup. He will be in charge of the side till the next Olympics.

The 50-year-old Aussie, who consulted his former teammate and present Indian men’s coach Michael Nobbs before taking up the job, said the aim should not be just to qualify for the World Cup but also to “win and be successful.”

Talking to reporters here on Monday, Hawgood, who would join the National camp at Bhopal on Tuesday, said he had to find out “where the players are physically and mentally.”

The immediate goal for the Aussie would be prepare the team for the Champions Challenge I in Dublin from September 29.

Hawgood, who had been associated with various coaching assignments in Australia and the United Kingdom for the last 15 years, said it would be a big challenge to improve from the 13th slot to be within the top six in the World.

Hawgood, who recently watched the Indian team in action in the junior women’s Asia Cup in Bangkok, looked ahead at combining the senior and junior players as a good number of juniors were in the senior side. “In the final against China in Bangkok, the junior team dropped in fitness and decision making in the second-half. They made some bad decisions as they got tired.”

Hawgood, who would be helped by exercise physiologist Dr. Ben Dascombe, said the Indian players had to improve their fitness level to perform better. Dr. Dascombe stressed the importance of preparing a training structure for the players in order to put them in a level playing field at the international stage.

Hawgood, who had watched the senior members of the Indian side in a few matches in Australia, liked their attacking approach, but wanted them to enhance their defensive skills. “When you attack, you should also get ready to defend. That means to improve your defence than being reactive.”

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